San Francisco’s board of supervisors has urged the city and county to delete the question about prior convictions from public employment applications, reports the Los Angeles Times. The proposal does not prevent employers from conducting criminal background checks or asking about prior felonies during job interviews. Supervisor Tom Ammiano stressed that a revised policy would broaden the city’s pool of qualified applicants while reinvesting in ex-convicts who are working to rehabilitate themselves.
The resolution prompted 160 letters from members of a San Francisco political action committee concerned that changes would hamstring city hiring managers and allow certain classes of felons into sensitive positions. San Francisco is the first municipality in the state – and possibly the nation – to grapple with what advocates say is employment discrimination against ex-prisoners. Increasing security concerns since the Sept. 11 terror attacks have led to a sharp rise in criminal background checks by employers: Eighty percent conducted them in 2003, up from 51% in 1996, says the Society for Human Resource Management. There are an estimated 12 million people in the U.S. with felony convictions – about 8% of the working-age population, and more than 600,000 offenders are being released from prisons yearly, said Devah Pager of Princeton University, who researches employment discrimination against felons.